Throwback Thursday: How did Brentwood Community Hospital come to be?

The old District Hospital. Picture: Brentwood Museum

The old District Hospital. Picture: Brentwood Museum - Credit: Brentwood Museum

Enjoy Brentwood More’s history columnist, author and vice-president of the Brentwood Writer’s Circle, Sylvia Kent writes about how Brentwood Community Hospital came to be.

Brentwood Community Hospital today. Picture: Peter Robert Kent

Brentwood Community Hospital today. Picture: Peter Robert Kent - Credit: Peter Robert Kent

Still in lockdown, we recall that it’s only a few months since our local newspaper highlighted the decision to expand Brentwood Community Hospital to help accommodate the increasing numbers of coronavirus patients. Work on the isolation areas was carried out with help from Fire and Rescue Service and the Army. This state-of-the art hospital was built in 2008 under a PFI deal and foundation stone laid by MP Eric Pickles (now ennobled).

New patients and older Brentwood residents have expressed their appreciation for the modern Brentwood Community Hospital opened in 2008, built on the site of the former hospital known as the Brentwood District. This earlier building was opened in 1934 and that, too has an interesting history.

The late Brian Lynch was a local journalist who wrote the book “The Finished Stairway” on the 50th anniversary of the building of the Brentwood District Hospital. He outlined the story of the original hospital, which opened its doors in the summer of 1934. Its cost – £40,000 was met by the people of Brentwood. It was a wonderful achievement as the building was opened absolutely free of debt, remarkable in that Depression era of the thirties, when so many people were out of work.

Fundraising is part of our lives now, but in 1931 – when the idea was first mooted - the cost of building a modern hospital was an impossible dream for such a small community. What happened next was an amazing feat. From a population of just 5,000 residents, rich and poor, working, middle and upper classes all came together to raise the money needed to build and equip this much needed hospital.

The 20-acre piece of land was generously donated by a local resident, Percy Bayman. The elected chairman of the Brentwood Hospital Governors, Frederick “Limelight” Jackson, was a successful businessman. His nickname derived from his ebullient character, but his passion for ‘getting things done’ was appreciated and vital to this communal project.

He launched the Brentwood Hospital fundraising campaign in January 1931 and the foundation stone ceremony was performed by the then Princess Royal, daughter of King George V in May that year. Every penny was needed for the fundraising bucket, Carnivals, coffee-mornings, raffles, school bazaars, church collections and contributions from anyone who had small change, was collected for the hospital fund.

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The building work was undertaken by sixty local workmen who had been previously unemployed. On 14 June 1934, Frederick Jackson wrote: “The interest taken by everyone in the district has been wonderful and I anticipate that it will continue thus providing for upkeep and maintenance in which we shall require your further help.”

When the hospital was finished, the whole of Brentwood turned out to welcome Princess Helena Victoria, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, who took a key from Geoffrey Bayman, grandson of the great benefactor and turned it to open the doors of the new hospital which remained the pride of Brentwood for more than seventy years.

And now Brentwood Borough residents are again expressing their appreciation of the valuable work being carried out by hospital staff at our own Brentwood Community Hospital in these stressful times. n

Further historical information can be found in Brentwood in 50 Buildings published by Amberley Publishing, available at WH Smith Ltd and Waterstones in Brentwood.